LUXURY: Mercedes pads lead over BMW -- by a few hundred
New-model delays kneecapped sales at Mercedes-Benz in September and set up a razor-thin race for the luxury crown as 2018 enters its final quarter.
Mercedes sold nearly 10 percent fewer vehicles than in September 2017, though it still beat BMW for the month and extended its year-to-date lead to 319 vehicles. The two brands were separated by just 58 vehicles at the end of August.
BMW sales in September inched 1.3 percent higher to 25,908 vehicles, while Lexus sales fell 6.1 percent to 24,597.
Overall, U.S. luxury sales fell 4.4 percent to 168,018 vehicles in September. For the year-to-date, luxury sales fell 0.2 percent to 1.47 million units.
While some luxury brands didn't fare as poorly as their mass-market counterparts in the third quarter, cars are taking a hit regardless of price point, said Akshay Anand, executive analyst for Kelley Blue Book.
"This is a trend that has shown no signs of slowing down despite the massive gulf between SUV and car sales as of late," Anand told Automotive News. "Going forward, the recipe for luxury may be as simple as that -- if you have strong, new SUV products, you'll be fine. If you don't, look out."
That might be reflected in Acura's September sales, which were up 4.4 percent to 13,511 vehicles, buoyed by a 14 percent surge in light-truck sales.
"It helps that the industry is buying up SUVs," Anand said. But the reality is Acura is "facing tough times with their sedans and are in a bit of a limbo phase as a whole. The brand isn't quite luxury and seems to want to move towards fun and performance but hasn't put out much beyond the pricey NSX. As a result, it's missing some of the traditional luxury shoppers."
Mercedes-Benz sold 26,169 vehicles in September, excluding the brand's commercial vans and Smart vehicles. Year to date, the automaker sold 225,384 vehicles, excluding vans and Smart.
"Customer demand remains consistently strong, but our inventory levels are still impacted by delays in availability of many of our most popular 2019 models," said Dietmar Exler, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA. "We expect increased availability throughout October and for the remainder of the year."
Volume leaders in September included the GLC, C-class and E-class lines. The GLC took the lead at 6,070 vehicles, followed by C-class sales of 4,682. The E class rounded out the top three, with 4,072 vehicles sold. September sales of Mercedes-AMG high-performance vehicles totaled 1,378, resulting in 20,738 vehicles sold year to date.
At BMW, crossovers accounted for more than half of September sales. The X3 was the top-selling BMW model in the U.S. for the sixth consecutive month.
Year to date, BMW sold 225,065 vehicles, up 2.2 percent from the same period a year ago.
Electrified vehicles are a growth market for BMW Group, accounting for 6.7 percent of U.S. sales last month. Sales of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles totaled 1,858 in September, up 4.3 percent from a year ago.
Audi, which reported its results several hours late on Tuesday, said its streak of year-over-year monthly U.S. sales increases was extended, narrowly, to 107 months, with an increase of 0.2 percent, or just 42 vehicles, to 19,350 units, reflecting a strong month for the Q5 as well as the A4 and A5.
Porsche Cars North America reported September U.S. sales of 5,102 vehicles, a 0.9 percent uptick from the same time last year. Retail sales for the first nine months climbed 3.4 percent to 42,626.
Porsche's September sales were fueled by demand for two model lines. The arrival of the new-generation Cayenne in U.S. showrooms boosted that nameplate's sales 27 percent year over year. 911 sales, meanwhile, accelerated 38 percent.
The Macan was the brand's top seller in September, at 2,232 vehicles, or nearly 44 percent of all Porsches sold that month.
"The Macan is really at the core of bringing in new customers," said Robert DiStanislao, president of Porsche of the Main Line in suburban Philadelphia. "People from 19 to 90 want the Macan."
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